Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trinity Sunday Homily

Trinity Sunday, Year C

    The teaching is fairly simple on the face of it: we believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: 1 God, 3 persons. Though it is simple, it is hard to comprehend, in fact we never fully comprehend this mystery. For us personhood and individuality go hand in hand: every person is also a separate substance. But, when it comes to God, this is not the case. Rather, God is one substance, but three persons in a loving communion of persons. This is the teaching, but where does it come from? When I was in the seminary I had the good fortune to take a full 3 credit course on the Trinity. During this course I was able to learn exactly how this doctrine has unfolded in the history of humanity.

We begin with the faith of the people of Israel, who, beginning with Abraham, believed in only one God. In the face of the polytheism of the ancient world, Israel came to know the one true God. This was not a discovery of reason, rather God revealed himself to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. This one God continued to be in relationship with his people, speaking to Moses in the burning bush and face to face on the mountain. He continued to guide his people through the words of his holy prophets. Christianity is based upon the faith of the people of Israel. So, we inherited this faith, this revelation the God is one and that there is only one God. The gods of the heathens are naught! They don't even exist. So Judaism is a monotheistic faith, and so is Christianity.

However, the birth of Jesus does change things. It doesn't really change God! We hear in the first reading that the Wisdom of God was with God from the beginning. Since the early days of the Church, Christians have seen the Wisdom of the Old Testament as a type referring to Christ, who is the Word, the Logos, of God. So Jesus, the divine word, existed for all time, even before the incarnation. Yet, when God becomes Man it furthers the revelation of the nature of God. God reveals more about himself to us. We maintain our faith in the unity of God: God is one. But Jesus is God! Not only that, but the Father sends us the Spirit through the Son. Last week we celebrated Pentecost, so it is fitting that we celebrate Trinity Sunday on the following Sunday, since the coming of the Holy Spirit is the last revelation of the mystery of the Trinity.

So this is how we arrive at the teaching of God as Trinity. We inherit the faith of the Old Testament, which held that God is one. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus reveal to us the Son. And with the coming of the Holy Spirit the revelation of the mystery is complete. There is one God, who is the Father who sends the Son so to give the Holy Spirit. God is one, but three persons.

Like I mentioned above, I had a 3 credit course to explore this teaching. It is well worth your while to study and explore this wonderful doctrine. You might not have the chance to take a class on the Trinity, but you can turn to books for help, especially the Catechism. Every Catholic family should have one of these books on its shelf. It is certainly true that the Trinity is a mystery. But, this doesn't mean that we cannot say anything about the Trinity. Rather, it means that we can say many true things about the Trinity even though we can never get to the fullness of the Truth about God's existence. So, it is important to study and pray as a way to bolster our faith.

In fact, we do this all the time, without realizing it. The liturgy itself is like a great catechism lesson on the Holy Trinity. One thing that can be difficult about the Mass is that we don't see the unity of the Mass. But, the whole Mass is a prayer to the Father in heaven, where we glorify God the Father, in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice that most of the prayers of the Mass are addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. This should be a reflection of our whole lives. The sacrifice of the Mass teaches us not only the Trinity, but also how we are to live! Our lives should be directed to the glory of God, through our communion with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Archbishop of Los Angeles

Please remember to pray for the new Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez.  I cannot imagine undertaking a job like that.  He will be the chief shepherd of 5 million Catholics next year when Cardinal Mahoney retires.  What a huge job, he will need your prayers.

Also, today is the feast day of St. Philip Neri, who was renowned for his great sense of humor.  So why not tell someone a good joke today (just be sure it is a good joke!).
God bless,
Fr Jake

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost 2010

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit entered the world. We call this day the birthday of the Church, for compelled by the Holy Spirit the Apostles went out preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, calling together a people, a Church. In many ways we can think of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the last chapter of the Bible. The great narrative that begins in the Garden of Eden, follows through the story of the people of Israel, finds its joy in the birth of Jesus, sees the cost of sin in the death of Jesus, finds its climax in the Resurrection on the third day, proceeds to the Ascension, finally seems to conclude with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Bible does speak about the last day, the end of the world that is to come. However, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit is preparing the world for that last day even as we speak. So, it seems to me that the final chapter in the Biblical narrative is the work of the Holy Spirit alive in the Christian community, continuing to work even today, even now.

Throughout this narrative God appears to his people in many ways. Each of these can be called Theophanies. A theophany is an appearance of God in our space and time. There is the burning bush, where God spoke to Moses, told him his will to save his people from slavery. God appears to protect Israel as they escaped from Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. God appeared to Elijah not in a great all powerful vision, but in the small whispering sound.

Of course, the greatest theophany is the incarnation itself. God appears to us in Jesus not in some terrifying guise; but as one like us in all things but sin. In the human face of Jesus Christ we see the divine. In the incarnation of Jesus we see the humility of God, in the preaching of Jesus we see the truth of God, in the death of Jesus we see the love of God, and in the resurrection of Jesus we see the promise of God: our own resurrection to follow. Jesus' life death, resurrection, and ascension are all theophanies, appearances of God which show to us his divine goodness.

Today we celebrate another theophany, when God appears to the early Church in tongues of fire. We today we remember that day when the Holy Spirit was sent into the world to continue the saving work of Jesus Christ, to continue to pour out the love of the Father into world. This is a great theophany, appearance of God in the world. In the narrative of the Bible, God never remains distant and aloof; rather, God is constantly coming to his people. In this last theophany, God not only comes to his people, but he remains here.

The mysterious thing about this theophany is that it is not over yet. The burning bush has cooled, the cloud of fire has dissipated, Jesus has ascended into heaven, but the Holy Spirit has yet to leave the Church. In fact, the Holy Spirit will never leave the Church. I think you can say that the Church itself, the united community of believers is itself proof of the manifestation of God. For, the Church is what happens when the Holy Spirit is sent into the world. We are assembled, called together, by the Spirit into the unity of the Church. This is why we call Pentecost the birthday of the Church. The theophany that we celebrate may have begun in that day when the Spirit descended upon the apostles but it continues to this day, for the Church is what happens when the Spirit is sent into the world.

St. Paul gives us an interesting insight into the working of the Holy Spirit. Paul says that those who are in the Spirit have the Spirit dwelling within them. And, later, he says that those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. For Paul this is not metaphorical. He really believed that the Spirit lived within him and led him. The same should hold true for us. In our baptism and confirmation we received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are called sons and daughters of God and we believe that His Spirit lives within us. Yet, are we always open to the Spirit's guidance, do we rely on his presence within us? I sometimes wonder if St. Paul could have fallen away from the faith after his great conversion experience… The answer is no, because he knew that the Spirit was living within him and he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit.

The point of all of this is that the great story of the Bible continues even now, the narrative continues in the Church, including each and every one of its members. When we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit we continue the work of salvation, heading for that kingdom, which is the great and glorious finale of the story. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and lead us that Kingdom promised to us by Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ascension

I remember going to Mass on the feast of the Ascension when I was a kid. I remember it being one of my least favorite holy days. I could never understand why Jesus left. I mean, doesn't it seem like it would be better for Jesus to stay here? Doesn't it seem like Jesus could have stayed here. We know that after the resurrection Jesus is not bound by space and time, we also know that Jesus lives forever, couldn't he have just stayed here like the Pope for all time? While part of this was motivated by my great love for superheroes (I imagined Jesus in those days like Superman or some other kind of hero), some of this longing is well-intentioned: don't we all want to see Jesus?

Yet, one thing we notice when we read the scripture is that the ascension is never an isolated event. Today in the gospel Jesus is in the middle of teaching his apostles when he goes up to heaven. We hear from the Acts of the Apostles that this took place 40 days after the resurrection. And, we hear that the disciples were not at all disappointed in Jesus ascension but were, rather, overjoyed. So, while I always saw the ascension as an interruption of the resurrection, it is actually the fulfillment of Jesus life here on earth. Jesus whole life was heading not only to his death and resurrection, but also to his ascension.

The ascension is integral to the gospel, the good news. It completes the resurrection. How so? Think about our condition before the coming of Christ. One of the prayers at Mass always sticks in my mind: When we were lost and could not find the way to you, you loved us more than ever; Jesus, your Son, innocent and without sin, gave himself into our hands and was nailed to a cross.  We were lost, we were removed from the presence of God by our sins. Because of the fall of our first parents, the communion that the human family was meant to share with God was ruptured. This communion could not be remade by human power alone, which is why Jesus came to us. Jesus came to rescue the lost: he is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek out the lost sheep: the human race. Jesus does this by becoming human: the Divine Word, the second person of the blessed Trinity becomes human so that all of us who are human might again have communion with God. The love which motivates this act of the Word is shown in its perfection on the Cross, where Jesus loves us to the end. Yet, it is only in the ascension where this new communion is fully restored. Humanity, now in the person of Jesus, is raised to the heights of heaven. No longer is there this hard and fast separation between God and humanity; rather, God is with humanity and humanity is with God: united in the person of Jesus Christ. The ascension brings this to completion.

So Jesus was here for a time in order to take us with him into the embrace of our heavenly Father. What did Jesus take with him to heaven? He took with him humanity itself: Jesus is fully God and fully human. All of us therefore, already have a foot in heaven, as it were, by our common humanity that we share with Christ. He also took with him his experiences: all the ups and downs of human life. We should be quick to turn to him in our own experiences: when we suffer, we turn to Christ, when we rejoice, we turn to Christ: Jesus experienced everything that it means to be human. So he takes not only humanity, but also the experience of being human.

What did he leave behind? He left behind the community of believers, which is drawn together by the Holy Eucharist. He leaves behind is very self: his body blood soul and divinity in this most holy Sacrament. Benedict XVI once wrote: it is not the Church that makes the Eucharist, but the Eucharist the makes the Church. When Jesus ascends into heaven it is not so much that Jesus leaves earth; rather, he joins heaven and earth together. This is seen most clearly in the sacrifice of the Mass. Every time we gather around this altar we are joined to the Risen Christ already reigning in heaven. The ascension brings the resurrection to its completion, but the Mass brings the whole paschal mystery, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ into our present moment. As a kid I wanted Jesus to stay as a superhero, but in fact, after the ascension Jesus is able to be present with us here all the time in this Holy Eucharist.

I would like to finish with a quote from St. Ephrem who saw this connection between the ascension and Eucharist quite clearly. He sees the Ascension itself as a Eucharistic offering:

On this day has ascended to heaven

The new and spiritual bread,

And all the mysteries have been revealed

In your Body, raised like an offering.

Blest be this bread, O Lord!


 

As light falling from heaven,

He was born of Mary, like a divine seed,

Fell from the cross like a ripe fruit,

And was raised to heaven as one raises the

First-fruits.

Blest be your will!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

6th Sunday of Easter, Year C

Tuesday at the All-School Mass, I asked the children about peace—what is peace? This is a complicated question: what is peace and how do we attain it? Several answers were given: the absence of war, the lack of conflict, a place with no violence…

This caused me to think: what is peace? Can we really only describe it in terms of violence or war? Peace is the exclusion of bad things? Is this really what Jesus must have meant or is there something more going on here?

In our world suffering the effects of sin, we are exposed to war and violence on a daily basis. You can't watch the news for 5 minutes without hearing of some terrible outbreak of violence somewhere: think of the awful story of those Lacrosse players in Virginia, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bomb plot in New York: bombs, war, violence, murder, rape, you name it we see it on the nightly news.

Think also of the conflicts we face on a smaller scale. Just the drama of our daily lives counts here: dysfunction in families, conflicts at work or at school. There is even conflict in our hearts: we struggle with our sins and our temptations, everybody's got them.

When we think about all this conflict, peace starts to sound like a pipe dream. It starts to sound quaint and unrealistic, like a Miss America Pageant response to a question. How can all this conflict cease, what would be left if conflict did cease?

We define peace as the absence of conflict and yet conflict seems as though it will always be with us: where do we go, to whom do we turn? Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives do I give peace.

Jesus may have been referring to the Ancient Romans, who were famous for bringing peace in the form of armies: they would crush an opponent into surrender and establish peace as the absence of conflict, peace by the sword.

Jesus does not give peace in this way, his peace is established on the cross. Rather than establish peace through force, he brings peace through suffering; rather, than killing, Jesus dies. Through this death he rises to new life. From his wounded side pours out blood and water, baptism and Eucharist, his precious gifts of grace which bring us into communion with Christ, which give us peace.

The peace of Christ is not the absence of violence or conflict. The peace of Christ is not the absence of something bad, it is the presence of something good. It is the presence of Christ himself in our lives, it is the precious gift of grace making us more like Christ. It is this presence that we turn to in our times of conflict and turmoil. If we allow the peace of Christ to rule in us, Jesus will help up to deal with all the conflict we face in our daily lives. But, even more, if we let this peace rule within us, this peace will extend even into the world. It might seem a bit Pollyannaish to dream of world peace, but we this must be our dream, our hope. It starts with each one of us and will extend even beyond us.

I would like to finish up by calling your attention to the second reading. Here we hear what peace looks like in the end, this is the completion of peace, where all this is going. This is the coming of a new heaven and new earth, the heavenly Jerusalem, where sin, death, war, and conflict will be gone forever, replaced by holiness, life, justice, and goodness. We hear that this city has 12 gates, to symbolize that this new kingdom is a fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. Also, this city is built on the foundation of the apostles, a fulfillment of the New Testament. It has no temple, for God dwells in its midst. This certainly seems like an image for the Church: fulfilling the promises of old, built upon the faith of the apostles, with Christ Jesus dwelling in our midst here in the Holy Eucharist. It is this Church which will find its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. But here and now the Church, all of us, should be an instrument of peace, spreading the peace of Christ to the four corners of the world until that day when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.

 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

5th Sunday of Easter: Love one another as I have loved you.

    In today's Gospel Jesus gives us a new commandment: love one another. In one way this commandment is not all that new. In fact, in Leviticus chapter 19 God gives the command to love one's neighbor. So, this command has been given before. Yet, there is a new added twist: Love one another as I have loved you.

First of all, what does this love look like? Earlier in John's gospel we hear that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son so that all those who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life. Love looks like Jesus. Love is the cause of the incarnation, love brings about the birth of Christ. Love is an outpouring, it is generous and it is humble, being born in a manger. This is certainly included in Jesus' new command to love: our love is to be generous, humble, love is to be poured out for others. Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, to raise all of us, slaves to sin, to the heights of heaven.

What is the cost of love? We see the price of love whenever we look upon the crucifix. This is the cost of love. Because of sin, because of our fallen nature, we are destined to die. God did not make us to die, but that is our fate because of sin. Yet, Christ, because of his great love for us, decided to take death upon himself. The lord of life mounted the wood of the cross and destroyed death forever. When the light of the world, Jesus Christ, enters into the darkness of sin and death on the cross his bright light pierces the darkness, scattering it forever. This, also, is included in Jesus' new command to love one another. Christ gives us the great example: love suffers for others. We are so used to seeing the crucifix, we have them hanging everywhere. Really it is a strange symbol. Jesus Christ was killed by the Romans and we hold on to this image, this grisly reality: why? Because, it shows us the cost of love. This should inspire our faith: looking at the cross reminds us of the great love that Christ had for us. That he loved us to the very end. And it gives us a model to emulate: we too accept the sufferings that come with love.

What is the end of love? So far we have thought about love as being generous and humble, that it comes with a cost of self-sacrifice, but to what end? In the mystery of Christ raised from the dead we see the end of love: life itself. Death cannot contain love, it cannot overcome love. When Christ rises from the dead we see the outcome of love: new and everlasting life. When we love as Christ loves us, with patience, generosity, humility, and suffering, the result is life: not just the life that is to come, but life even here and now. Christ abundantly blesses love. When we love we enter into Christ. When we love one another we enter into the very mystery of God's own love. And it is by communion with that mystery that we find the source of life.

What are examples of this kind of love? The first thing we think about are the great saints, especially the martyrs, who laid down their lives for the faith. Perhaps we think about the missionaries who brought faith to the corners of the world. We think of Mother Teresa and her amazing work with the poor. All of these are examples of following Christ's command to love. But, so are the everyday things of our lives: a mother caring for a sick child, a husband working two jobs, young people striving for holiness and chastity. In fact, one reason that this is a new commandment is that Christ is not so much dictating certain actions as he is telling us about the Christian attitude. No matter what you are doing, no matter what your station in life: do it with love. Do it with humility, patience, generosity, and suffering. Putting on the mind and heart of Christ will guide us down the path of love.


 

As we turn now to receive this sacrament of love, ask Christ to form within you a loving heart. This loving heart helps us to live lives of holiness now and will prepare us for that kingdom he has prepared for us: a new heaven and a new earth where all things are made new through the power of love made evident on the cross and truly present in this holy Sacrament.